Welcome back! It’s Autumn 2002 and the mood in Scotland is positive. Just a few months after a heroic run to the World Cup final, Euro 2004 qualifying has got off to the perfect start with wins over Azerbaijan and, more impressively, Poland. The Poles were dispatched 4-0 in their own back yard which is a fine result no matter what year it is, so we’re full of confidence heading into the October Internationals.
A home nations derby with Northern Ireland at Hampden Park is first up, followed by a hopefully more tranquil trip to Malta. Here’s the table as it stands 2 games in:
The domestic season is still in its infancy, just 8 games in. From a Scottish point of view, Kiegan Parker has fired St Johnstone to second behind Celtic in the SPL, 8 goals in 9 games justifying my faith in him during the opening games of the qualifying campaign. That will really cement his place alongside Stephen McPhee, who has 3 in 9 for Port Vale who are enjoying a bright start to life in Division 1. Neil Sullivan’s Blackburn top the Premier League, so maybe we can’t read too much into it.
Gary Naysmith is back from his stubbed toe, replacing youngster Ross O’Donoghue who drops back down to the Under 21s. Mark Burchill is back too, so there’s only Charlie Miller missing with a pulled hamstring. Unfortunately that is only the case for a week, as centre half Chris Innes strains his groin playing for Middlesbrough. There’s a real dearth of centre halves, so I’ve called up Matt Elliott as cover.
The Northern Ireland game is here, they beat Poland at Windsor Park but then lost in Malta. Basically, my logic is if the Maltese can beat this lot then we must have a chance. Naysmith is back in at left back and McGuire replaces the stricken Innes.
The Northern Irish team will be combative, particularly Neil Lennon.
We were under the cosh a bit in the early running but then Aaron Hughes had a rush of blood and went in two footed on Neil McCann in the penalty area. Penalty, red card. Double trouble. From there it was fairly straight forward. Nicholas converted the penalty and added a second minutes later from a Naysmith cross. McGuire got his first Scotland goal from a second half corner and McPhee added the cherry on the cake in injury time. Lovely stuff.
Pretty dominant really
Don’t know what Russell Anderson did that was so awful but that’s tough.
Spain beat Poland 3-1 so we’re still top on goal difference. In more good news, there’s no more injuries to contend with before the trip to Malta, who won in Azerbaijan to move to 6 points out of 9. Maybe I have been harsh on them, we can’t take them too lightly.
Mark Kerr is one yellow card away from a ban. We face Spain next March in our next competitive fixture, and I really need him for that, so I’m taking a calculated risk. He’s on the bench so if we’re having a nightmare, he can come on. Young Stephen Hughes of Rangers steps in. Aside from that though, no further changes.
Malta’s team is not exactly full of household names but Michael Mifsud will win a league cup tie for Coventry at Old Trafford in years to come.
I needn’t have worried, we had the game won inside 20 minutes
Russell Anderson got 2 assists so thankfully he avoids the indignity of a 6 rating in another 4-0 win
Superb. It wasn’t quite as dominant as the Northern Ireland win but that’s ok, it’s 4 out of 4
The big news of the night though comes from Windsor Park. A bad tempered game ends in the ultimate punishment for Spain
Huge result for us, making a good night a great one. It means we can possibly afford to lose in Spain now and now be cut adrift.
That’s all for another time though. 4 games in, 15 goals scored, we’re looking like the World Cup runners up that we are. Granted we’ve played quite poor opposition, but we’re looking good for at least the top 2 even at this early stage.
The last game of 2002 is a friendly with Bolivia. I’m not sure which genius arranged that one but it’s unnecessary, and will be covered in the next update in March. That’s a long way away, admittedly, but the Scots will be ready. It’s Spain away followed by Azerbaijan away, so we can go all out in Spain and battle for a result. If we were to win that one…well I’d say we had one foot in the tournament. Watch this space. Thanks for reading!